Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Truth about Copier Sales

It's a frenetic time of year for our reps and many others, and not just because of the holidays. Our reps are out closing every last deal in sight right now. I've been hearing it in candidates' voices too. Everyone sounds kind of winded. It kind of makes a good argument for a fiscal year that ends at some other time of the year. Then again, it's been a good year for Linvatec so there will be much reason to celebrate on New Year's Eve.

I've been pondering my resolutions for 2007. I usually have lots of them, in every category of life- home, family, work, personal, health. My resolutions this year include red wine and chocolate milk, among other things. I'm sure you've heard of the many benefits of drinking a glass of red wine every day. It's even good for your gums. But why chocolate milk, you ask.

First of all, tastes great, no question about it, I could use the calcium and I read recently that they've found that athletes recover most quickly from their workouts by drinking glass of chocolate milk. So everyday after my run I've decided to chug at least 8 ozs of the sweet stuff. I did pretty good with my resolution this past year to eat a square of dark chocolate every day so I think I can handle the chocolate milk thing too. The way I look at it, everyone needs a few easy resolutions each year in addition to the tough ones.

I'm gonna need all the energy I can get. When everyone recovers from the New Year's Eve revelry and post-quota hang-over, they'll fire up their hiring plans for 2007. Last January, I was extremely busy. It also seems like the time of year that sales reps like to polish up their resumes and test the waters, especially if they've busted their quota and banked president's club.

Maybe this year is the year you've decided you are going to break into medical sales, or maybe you're at a stage where you are trying to figure out the best interim steps to take to get you there. Sometimes I think the the hard part of making resolutions that matter is sifting out the good information from the bad, and there is an awful lot of bad career advice out there. Recently, a writer in the employment section wrote that "job hopping" no longer matters. He couldn't be more wrong.

So, I thought I might hit on a topic for those of you interested in preparing yourself for a career in medical device sales. It seems funny, but in our industry, hiring managers would much rather see candidates with copier sales experience than prior pharmaceutical sales. (In fact, some hiring managers consider pharma sales the kiss of death, but more on that another time.)

Could copier sales be your golden ticket to the chocolate factory? (You'll soon notice chocolate is a recurring theme with me.) It's no guarantee, but it's a good start. If you work hard at it, you can develop great skills that will serve you well throughout your sales career. Be prepared for a rough road if you decide to give a try. It's a relentless, cutthroat business. Don't cop out too soon. Stick with it for a while and get tough.

Listed below are some of the things that make copier sales such a great career booster.
  1. Highly Competitive Industry: many players out hunting and beating the bushes for deals, head-to-head competition
  2. Technical Products: think hardware, reps have to demo products, troubleshoot problems, study and develop their product knowledge and continuously learn about the competition
  3. Capital Sale: higher dollar value means more commitment required on the part of the customer, more persuasion and skill required of the rep to close the deal
  4. Higher-Level Decision Makers: C-level selling experience is good because a sophisticated and demanding buyer is more like a surgeon than is your average consumer
  5. Excellent Sales Training: not just on products, but sales as a process, it should be "formal" i.e. classroom not just Joe Mgr telling you the way he's always done it
  6. True Close: somebody's got to sign on the dotted line and commit funds from their bank account
  7. More than a One-Call Close: consultative selling, digging into the buyer's needs/pain, requires some rapport/trust/relationship building
  8. B2B: selling to businesses, not individuals, 'nough said
  9. Rankings: you'll need to be able to document your performance against your peers
If you can find most of these characteristics in a sales position, then it might be a good alternative to copier sales. Other types of sales to consider include: wireless, IT/hardware, some financial sales, uniform sales. These positions may not have all of the characteristics listed above, but with a good training program, might be worth considering. Companies include Verizon, Cingular, Cintas, New York Life in addition to the Xeroxs, Laniers and Ikons of the copier world.

If you already have succeeded in such environment, please apply directly to our website or one of the other options listed to the right. Again, we prefer local candidates, so if you don't see an opening in your area right now, send me an e-mail with your resume and I will keep it on file for future reference. Soon I'll have a tidy button on this site where you'll be able to join our Talent Network through Jobster and be notified when positions open in your area. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Something Special

The new hires have headed home from training with their heads stuffed full with lots of information. It seems to me that each group of new hires that comes through has a distinct personality. This time around, the group was professional and purposeful. Subtle, yet dangerous. Kind of like spies preparing for a mission behind enemy lines.

When new hires come in for training, they are always under a bit of a spotlight. The distributors they work for are always a little anxious because they feel their reps' performance at training is a direct reflection upon them. I'm usually anxious too because I feel the same way. Most new hires realize that making a good first impression on marketing and sales support will benefit their career in the long run. Then again, there are those who fail to take advantage of the amazing opportunity before them and instead get drunk, run up and down the halls in their underwear and go skinny dipping in the pool. It is a rare occurrence, yet absolutely fatal to one's career.

I do a bit of spying myself, checking in with the marketing and training folks to find out who's paying attention, who's working hard and engaging with the information and the people around them. One of the marketing managers told me about something special that happened when the group was touring the manufacturing facility. I think it's indicative of the class's character.

The class stopped near the area where our arthroscopy pumps are assembled. After the new hires saw and heard about the products being made there, they broke into a spontaneous round of applause. They applauded again near the assembly area for the powered handpieces. Bewildered, one of the production folks approached the marketing manager and asked who they were and why they were clapping. "They're the new sales reps and they realize how much the products you assemble mean for them and the company," he explained.

Like I said, this group didn't miss much.

I read a quote once about how to become a good writer. I've been trying to remember who said it, because I think it applies equally well to other endeavors. It goes something like, "Be one of those people on whom nothing is lost." To me, it's about being attentive, appreciative and resourceful. It could be translated many different ways, such as... make the most of the opportunities before you. I think many in this group will do exactly that.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Doctor's Perspective

On Friday afternoon, Dr. Don Johnson of the Carleton Sports Medicine Clinic shared his perspective on what makes a good rep.

Dr. Johnson has worked with ConMed Linvatec (formerly Concept) since the early '80's. His clinic is based in Canada where Linvatec has a 65% marketshare. A former president of the Arthroscopy Association of North America, he has contributed many product ideas over the years as one of our company's key surgeon-consultants.

He started off with a story about his old rep who showed him a zone-specific cannula set. At the time, the concept of stitching menisci was totally new. Excited, he asked his rep, "How do you use it?" His rep looked back at him and said, "I don't f*%^ing know. You're the doctor."

That, ladies and gentleman, is how not to succeed as a medical device rep in this day and age.

In Dr. Johnson's opinion, product knowledge is king. Reps should know the procedures their products are used on backwards, forwards, inside and out, including potential pitfalls, and solutions or "bail outs" if something goes wrong during surgery. Moreover, reps need to know their competitors' products almost as well as their own, so they can present the right products to compete effectively.

Such knowledge is also extremely important when trying to convince a surgeon to give you a shot to work with them for the first time. If a rep understands potential problems the surgeon might encounter, then the rep can get to the bottom of their "pain" and offer a product or way to solve that problem. "Look for a doctor who is having problems, show up to solve his problems and then start fixing them," Dr. Johnson said.

If you don't know your stuff, you risk coming off as a pushy, used-car salesperson, which most doctors find a major turn-off. In Canada, they go so far as to tell reps "not to sell" for the first three years, since docs will snuff them out if they aren't fluent in medical lingo. Even if you can spin the lingo, maintain your modesty. Know-it-alls fall in the same undesirable category as the used-car reps.

Doctors look for reps who can "talk their talk" and judge pretty quickly a rep's knowledge level and sincerity. "They will test you," cautioned Dr. Johnson. He recommended reading the following journals to stay current with research and trends.

The American Journal of Sports Medicine
Arthroscopy, The Journal of Arthroscopic and Related Surgery

Although product superiority is one level to "flip" or convert a doctor, great service is also a big lure. He suggested reps be "johnny on the spot" whenever the doctor or his staff need help, even going so far as to help solving problems with competitive products.

From his perspective, the best time for a rep to find a few moments to speak with a surgeon is on a "light" surgery day, which varies by surgeon. Chit-chat during a routine procedure or at the scrub sink are probably fine (prefaced with "Do you mind talking?"), but he counseled reps to be sensitive to the surgeons' moods and need to concentrate. Office or clinic hours are hectic and bring endless demands from patients- not a good time to peddle your wares, especially at the end of the day when the doctor has been running ragged trying to solve multiple problems all day.

Doctors see a lot of reps. If you've been showing your face a lot, you may be the one they call when they have a problem. Persistence, product knowledge, sincerity, willingness to help out and ability to solve problems... using Dr. Johnson's experience as a guideline, these seem to be the characteristics that doctors notice and appreciate in a good rep.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Writer's Remorse

Last week I had a serious case of writer's remorse. It's an affliction characterized by severe abdominal pain and cold sweats which strikes writers when they realize they've written something really stupid. Believe it or not, it wasn't over anything I've written here. And if you think I'm going to dish you on juicy details, you can forget it.

I'm still in recovery mode. Maybe that's why I've been second-guessing my last post. Although my aim is to present a realistic account of what it's like to become a rep in this industry, I wonder if someone looking in from the outside might find it discouraging. I was tempted to tinker but I've decided to leave it alone, in part because of the new hires I met today.

It's a good group and it seems like they are off to a good start. I invited them to start commenting on my posts, right, wrong or indifferent. Whether I get it exactly right probably doesn't matter as much as their willingness to respond and share their experiences since they are the ones living it day-to-day.

I only had time for brief conversations with a handful of them, but as I was driving home, it struck me that they are people who love a challenge. Among all the different personalities and backgrounds, I would say that was one of the common denominators in the room.

In life, there are people who thrive on challenges, and there are those who are just looking for the comfy couch. There are people who like the idea of being a successful medical device rep, and there are those who are willing to do the hard work it takes to become one.

So, if the last entry turned you off, medical device sales may not be for you. If the last entry made you want to rise up and prove yourself- well then, you may be headed in the right direction.

Monday, December 4, 2006

When the Circus Came to Town

Over Thanksgiving, my sister, her husband and little boy came to visit us. And their two dogs. And their cat.

"The circus is here!" she announced.

It was a houseful, but we had fun.

My brother-in-law started as a cardiovascular rep about six-months ago. Reps with his company train in-house for 16 weeks when they start. During training, he did spend a few days in the field riding-along with more experienced reps. He finished second in his training class.

While they were visiting, we compared notes about what it's like to get started in medical device sales. I shared with him the "classic" cycle new reps go through, as described to me once by one of our distributor's sales managers. (Okay, just so you know, these are not the sales manager's exact words.)

Month One: Euphoria! I got the job! Everything is new and exciting!
Month Two: Oh crap, this is a lot of hard work and I don't know squat. Can I do this?
Month Three: Training (usually), a little happiness boost, but my head seriously spinning.
Month Four: ...sinking into the black pit of depression.
Month Five: Why did I ever think I wanted this job? Was I crazy?
Month Six: Hey, customers are actually starting to call me! I actually knew the answer to their question! They might actually buy something!

After I describe this scenario, my sister looked at me and asked, "Have you been a fly on our wall?"

My brother-in-law is not in the same market as Linvatec, he had hard-core training, but he still hit the wall. He and my sister (child, dogs and cat too of course) relocated to a new city, so finding his way around snarls in big-city traffic was an added frustration. (And one reason we prefer local candidates, not relos. There's enough stress already!) He stepped into a territory that had probably been neglected by the last rep, so customers did not exactly embrace him. His manager quit or was fired a few months into the process, and the sales in his territory were off significantly at one point. He said one of the hardest parts for him, after having been in a classroom for 16 weeks, was working alone all day, everyday.

I'm happy to report, he and his territory have turned the corner. There is light at the end of the tunnel! Sales are climbing and his docs are calling him. Life ain't totally peachy yet. There are still rough patches, but it's definitely on the upswing.

I'll admit, this is a very small sample size to compare the experience of our reps to, but it wouldn't be too far-fetched to suggest that in most cases, there is a tough learning curve in medical device sales. There are certainly exceptions, reps who thru some combination of charisma, intelligence and luck manage to "knock it out of the park", but I would say most get thru the learning curve the old-fashioned way. They work hard, study hard, have a little faith, but they pretty much have to gut it out.

A candidate I spoke to the other day remarked how successful OR reps just seem to carry themselves a little differently and seem to be treated with more respect than other types of reps. I think there's some truth to it. Reps who succeed in medical device sales are damn proud of themselves, and rightfully so. There's a lot of pride and confidence to be had in succeeding in a challenging, highly competitive industry.

So this week, a new class of reps is here for training and their happiness booster shot. I really look forward to meeting new hires face-to-face for the first time, after having spent so much time talking to them on the phone during the hiring process. As they battle their way through the initial learning curve, I hope they keep their eyes on the prize.